Coexist is a documentary that seeks to provide insight into the reconciliation process in Rwanda after the 1994 genocide. The sheer scale and complex nature of the conflict provides a unique glimpse into how individuals and their communities recover from horrific experiences and the documentary questions whether reconciliation is even possible under such traumatic conditions. Recently, Rwanda was recognized for its stable political environment and for achieving one of the highest economic growth rates in the world. Through the voices of Rwandans, Coexist provides a means of examining how social and political reconstruction has been managed.
The documentary provides the context for which the genocide took place. Major ethnic groups were at the center of the genocide, despite there being little difference between the groups. Coexist does not highlight Rwanda’s colonial history. It is, therefore, unable to explore how this experience shaped political struggles in the nation. The documentary attributes the intensity and sheer scale of the genocide to fear, without providing a historical context of Rwanda. This deprives the viewer of vital insights into the extreme violence unleashed during the 1994 genocide. To its credit, Coexist does shed light on the role that the elite, at the national and local level, played in triggering and sustaining the genocide through the voices of victims and perpetrators.
The Adam Mazo-directed documentary also focuses on the nature of the state-backed reconciliation process which has required, among other things, the reintegration of perpetrators into communities. Touching on very sensitive issues, the voices of victims and perpetrators provide a very graphic take on a chapter of world history that continues to traumatize the population of this African state.
What strikes me as interesting is that the reconciliation process is depicted as being insulated from public debate. Coexist demonstrates the resilience of the victims and juxtaposes this against a latent resistance to the reconciliation imposed by the Rwandan state. The documentary succeeds in directly confronting the nature of the repressive Rwandan state. For instance, Coexist does illustrate how the Rwandan state has managed to maintain a façade of resolution in the midst of flashes of violence and political repression. This is further reinforced by a state-backed narrative glossing over the violence the (now ruling) Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) rebel army unleashed on unarmed civilians during the conflict. The added fact that reprisal attacks continue on genocide survivors, who either testify or act as judges in the traditional Gacaca courts, illustrates that reconciliation is still uncertain.
Due to the scale of the genocide, the path to peace does imply that victims would have to tolerate some of the perpetrators. The question that remains to be addressed is whether the approach adopted provides a long-term resolution. The role that political struggles over property played in the genocide also received some attention in the documentary, but the issue was not examined closely. As a result, Coexist left me wondering if the distribution of power and resources in Rwanda has the ability to secure stability and peace for current and future generations.
Coexist attempts to universalize the message of tolerance in the midst of conflict resolution, but the lack of a reflection on Rwanda’s historical experience, which has shaped political struggles, deprives the viewer of understanding the depth of the conflict. The dilemma left for future generations to confront is how to repair the damage wrought by violence and Coexist succeeds in emphasizing the role tolerance must play in this process.